Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mid Autumn Moon Festival: Mooncakes

Mooncakes are the traditional delicacy of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. They symbolize family reunion and harmony.

To learn more about the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, read our earlier post here.
Cantonese Mooncake
Photo Credit: Boo Lee
Mooncakes can be found weeks before the festival sold at bakeries and Asian groceries. They are given as gifts to family, friends and work colleagues, and are meant to be shared.

The red ball to the right is a steamed salted duck egg yolk
Photo Credit: InterContinental Hong Kong
Mooncakes are traditionally made using intricately carved wooden molds, in various shapes and designs, though most commonly round like the moon. Original mooncakes were not as elaborate, but a simple pastry with a filling. They are made with a variety of fillings such as the classic sweetened lotus seed paste, red bean paste, chinese date paste, sometimes with bits of ham, and the yolk of salted duck egg.

Mooncakes also vary from one region to another, and these days you can find ice cream and jelly versions. 

Below is a short video by The Ravenous Couple showing how homemade mooncakes are made. It is based in Vietnam, however the process is the same, and and I chose this video because it is clear and to the point - important for young audiences :)

Want to try making your own? House of Annie has a great post with recipe on how to make traditional mooncakes, including important tips.

Mooncake Legend

During the Yuan dynasty, about 700 years ago, China was ruled harshly by Mongol invaders. The Chinese wanted to overthrow the Mongol rulers, however they were closely watched and could not speak freely. A plan was hatched to send secret messages and instructions used to tell the time and place for the revolution against the Mongol rulers, rolled in waxed paper and hidden inside mooncakes. In this way, mooncakes and the secretly planned attack passed from family to family, house to house. The Mongols did not think anything of it as it was customary for the Chinese to send gifts prior to festivals. When the time for the rebellion arrived, the Mongols were completely surprised, and the Chinese rebels won the struggle. The attack was victorious, and eventually led to the fall of the Yuan dynasty and the rise of the Ming dynasty. To this day, mooncakes are credited for the victory.

Tasting Mooncakes

Cantonese mooncakes to the left, Suzhou mooncakes to the right
When I first walked into the Asian grocery a couple of weeks ago, I was excited to see how many different boxes and tins of mooncakes were for sale. They ranged from simple to elaborate, sweet to savory, and moderately priced to expensive. I made a point of asking what the differences were, and bought a mid range priced tin of four Cantonese mooncakes, with the classic lotus seed paste filling and salted egg yolk, and a more budget friendly box of Suzhou mooncakes (no design, flaky crust) with a red bean paste filling. I wanted to err on the side of caution with the red bean paste ones, certain those would be enjoyed. I am also glad I asked about the filings because some had meat, others green beans. 

Wanting to share with you, our dear readers, what these delectable looking pastries tasted like, we took out a classic lotus seed paste mooncake. And meant to share they are - they are fairly large and heavy, and in the tin they come with a little knife and two spears. Elle could barely contain her excitement as I sliced this one in four equal pieces...

Now I'm sure I mentioned there would be egg yolks within (representing the full moon), but at the sight of them, Hubby was aghast. He still has not quite gotten over the 100 year old eggs we thought we'd try, months ago. Elle took small nibbles of the yolk, as I kept entreating her to take a bite tasting all the elements at once. Eventually, she scooped the yolk out, and ate most of her quarter of a piece. Pea and I had no qualms eating our pieces. The filling is not too sweet, and a little gummy. The yolk has notes of saltiness, and, taste of, well, egg yolks. They are quite heavy, and one quarter of a piece was more than satisfying. I am glad I bought the red bean paste ones because I don't think the classic mooncakes will be in high demand during our Moon Festival celebration. Furthermore, before our tasting, when I sent hubby out to pick up the pomelo, he bought another tin of Cantonese mooncakes - which means we have quite a few to share!

This week, we'll be preparing for the moon festival by reading books, tasting mooncakes and learning how they are made, making lanterns to hang on sticks, reading and writing poetry about the moon, and honoring the moon on the 19th with tea, mooncakes, and pomelos. 


  1. Yep, I did the same and bought mooncakes today from a Chinese bakery. We live in the area where finding them is not a problem :) Ours will be lotus paste, green tea and pineapple.

    1. Green tea and pineapple sound delicious! I hope you pop by and tell me what you and smarty pants think of them :)

  2. What a wonderful post! Happy Mid Autumn Moon Festival!

    1. Thank you Amanda! Happy Mid Autumn Moon Festival to you!


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